Thursday, February 26, 2015

Homan Square -- Chicago, America


 Notice is being paid. There are black sites in the American Domestic Gulags where particularly interesting or difficult detainees are being taken and held for more or less time.

One of them is in Chicago, a warehouse blandly referred to as "Homan Square" where (mostly) black and brown suspected gang members are taken to be worked over in hopes of coercing confessions. At least that's what they say.

But in 2012, CPD raided crash pads ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago and nabbed several white men who were taken to Homan Square and -- at least for a time -- were disappeared there.

Now, years later, on the eve -- indeed the very day -- of Chicago's mayoral election, the Guardian posts a story by Spencer Ackerman using testimony from one of the NATO 3 detainees describing the Homan Square detention site and what happened to him when he was taken there. Other testimony is emerging of much worse treatment at Homan Square, including the death of a certain detainee under interrogation.

We can be sure it's not the only domestic black site nor is the reported death the only one in custody.

Testimony from one of the other detainees from the NATO summit raids was posted at FDL and dKos shortly after he was taken away in handcuffs and questioned and held at Homan Square until his release was arranged.

Three of the others who were taken that day were not released but were charged with various ridiculous crimes, including "terrorism" -- which led most sentient beings in those days to comprehend that in fact, according to Our Government, protesters against the Established Order are equivalent to and should be treated as terrorists. 

There is no other way to interpret what goes on with regard to protests and protesters and the police in this country.

This is a link to TarheelDem's testimony regarding his detention at Homan Square. Note the date of the post: June 7, 2012. His testimony matches almost exactly the testimony of the detainee who spoke with Spencer Ackerman at the Guardian link.

As they point out, this is not new. This has been going on for decades, and the problem is that Americans tolerate it, and some actively encourage it, regardless of political persuasion.

When that's the case, it's little wonder that police act the way they do. They don't just think it's a game and a joke, they think it's their job...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Killing Spree Continues

But the data seem to be showing a concentration of police killings... interesting.

By state since January 1, 2015:

TX -1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1  (24)
CA -1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 (21)
AZ -1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 (8)
FL -1 1 1 1 1 1 1 (7)
CO -1 1 1 1 1 (5)
OK -1 1 1 1 1 (5)
MO -1 1 1 1 (4)
UT -1 1 1 1 (4)
GA -1 1 1 1 (4)
MN -1 1 1 1 (4)
NC -1 1 1 (3)
AK -1 1 1 (3)
IL -1 1 1 (3)
MT -1 1 1 (3)
MD -1 1 1 (3)
TN -1 1 1 (3)
PA -1 1 1 (3)
KS -1 1 1 (3)
MI -1 1 (2)
ID -1 1 (2)
MS -1 1 (2)
OR -1 1 (2)
WA -1 1 (2)
NY -1 1 (2)
VA -1 1 (2)
NE -1 1 (2)
NJ -1 1 (2)
OH -1 1 (2)
KY -1 1 (2)
MA -1 1 (2)
AL -1 1 (2)
IN -1 1 (2)
LA -1 1  (2)
AR -1 1 (2)
IA -1 1 (2)
NM -1 (1)
NV -1 (1)
HI -1 (1)
NH -1 (1)
ME -1 (1)

The Zero States (so far this year):

and DC

The pattern is stark and obvious.

The killingest states BY FAR are Texas and California. They are ranked #2 and #1 in population, #1 and #2 in police killings, but their populations are not so much larger than states with far smaller kill rates -- such as New York with ten times fewer police killings than California. Something else is happening. It's not just about population.

We could put it simply by saying that the authorities in Texas and California don't put much value on human life and police kill with apparent abandon whenever they choose. Like police nearly everywhere, they face few or no consequences when they kill; it's part of their job, a job that they are expected to do, and so they do.

For all the justified rage about NYPD brutality and killing, New York police do not kill at anywhere near the rate of other police forces. Their kill-rate is almost insignificant compared to others, and not just compared to the rate of killing maintained in Texas and California.

New Mexico has reduced its police kill rate substantially, demonstrating that it can be done without society unraveling and descending into utter chaos.

Arizona and Florida have a comparatively high police kill-rate compared with other states, but Arizona maintains a slightly higher police kill rate with a population only a third of Florida's. On a proportional basis, Arizona's kill rate is among the highest in the nation.

But then perhaps human life, particularly brown human life, has little value in Arizona.

It's barely two months into the year, and already at least 152 people have been killed by police, a national kill rate of one every eight hours, three a day, comparable to the kill rate documented throughout the period "Killed by Police" has been maintaining records gleaned from mass media outlets.

The kill rate has been rock-steady at three a day for almost two years -- despite all the protests and public outrage at the constant bloodshed that arose last year and continues this year.

Almost as if by design. As if a certain number of "sheep" must be culled on a daily basis... to keep the rest of the herd in line?

If it worked, of course Our Rulers would require such a thing. Pragmatists to the end.

The protests continue, though somewhat abated by time and exhaustion. Some things have changed, and there will no doubt be more changes before too much longer.

But it's unlikely the basic premises of policing in this country will change substantially for the better any time soon.

The police state will most likely consolidate and endure, even if its domestic kill rate is reduced (and let's pray it is.)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mental Health Care and the Problem of Violent Policing

Surely by now many people understand that if they call 911 when a loved one is having a mental health crisis, their loved one is liable to be killed. This is doctrine all across the land. In any case where police are dispatched and they sense a threat of any kind, to themselves or others, they are supposed to neutralize the threat with whatever level of force they deem necessary under the circumstances.

Indeed, even when someone is suicidal and only threatening their own lives, the police doctrine is to "neutralize" the suicidal individual -- with deadly force if needed -- so as to... protect?

Police are dispatched any time a caller to 911 says they fear for their lives, or a loved one is armed and making threats, or there are guns or other weapons in the house, or it looks to them like a scary person is armed, blah blah blah, in other words, most any time there might-could be a threat of some kind to someone or some inanimate object.

If a diagnosed mental illness such as schizophrenia is mentioned, the likelihood of police killing the subject goes way up. Way-way up.

It is what the police are trained and expected to do.

Consequently, I have long said, "Don't call 911 in such cases unless you want your loved one dead."

Often enough in such cases, SWAT teams and snipers are sent on the call, the primary purpose being to kill. Period.

These are rules of engagement the public seems to be oblivious to is unaware of, because practically every day another call to 911 for help in dealing with a mentally ill loved one leads to another death, and families are shocked. "I called for help," they say, "but they killed my loved one instead." Yep. That's right. That's the kind of "help" first responding police are trained and expected to render. Why is this still a surprise? It's been SOP since most of the mental hospitals were closed decades ago.

Because so many loved ones in mental health crisis are killed by police year in and year out -- by my reckoning close to 400 a year, about a third of the total killed by police each year -- there is a nascent movement to revive the mental health care system something like it was before the Reaganite push to dismantle the system in the name of "civil liberties." Yes, that worked out well, didn't it?

Liberty for whom, to do what?

There is no doubt that there was a problem in the mental health care system as it was prior to the Reaganite dismantlement. It was enormous, for one thing. At any given time more than 4 million people were incarcerated in public and private mental hospitals and asylums across the land. This is about double the outrageous current prison population. Too often, patients had no way out, and many were held for life against their will, and sometimes against the will of their loved ones.

Too often, too, the care patients received in state run institutions was abominable. Private institutions were not much better.

The Reaganite solution was just to shut the institutions down and suggest that relatives and communities take care of their mentally ill -- or let the police do it in their stead.

This policy led to an enormous increase in the homeless population to start with, an increase that has never abated. Prison populations skyrocketed as well. It's often pointed out that a third or more of those in prison are mentally ill and most of them receive no treatment -- apart from periodic beatings, solitary confinement, pepper-sprayings and such like.

There are inadequate community mental health care facilities in the best of circumstances, and in many areas, there are none at all. Families are rarely prepared to cope adequately with a mentally ill loved one, and even their best efforts may lead to tragedy. Especially when they call for Emergency Services to "help."

Service providers and consultants milk the system for money while providing as little care as possible. This is how the system, such as it is, is set up. Mental health care budgets are often the first cut when times are tough -- as they have been for years during this Permanent Recession. Too bad for the victims.

Reviving and restoring the previous system of state run asylums and mental hospitals is probably not the best idea under the current regime of public parsimony and brutality. I can see it easily leading to something like the eugenics programs that operated in this country and abroad, most horribly in Nazi Germany.

A better system is one that operates locally not centrally, and is tied in with the communities served. This was supposedly what the devolution of mental health care from the closure of state hospitals to communities was leading to, but it never did. Instead, the police and prison system expanded to take on the difficult cases, and the rest were pretty much left to fend for themselves as best they and their families could manage. That was the "civil liberties" solution.

It's not working.

Or perhaps it is working but not the way anyone of compassion envisioned.

No, it's cruel and deadly. It's violent and catastrophic. It's corrupt and dangerous.

When a third of the police killings in the country are of mentally ill and/or suicidal individuals, it should be plain as day that there is a structural and institutional problem that might be correctable. Unfortunately, pro-police propaganda has worked well to convince many people that the proper course of action toward those who do not obey police is to kill them, regardless of mental health or suicidal tendencies.

If it's only 400 a year, what's the big deal, right? More than that die in a week in traffic accidents. More than that are killed in a week by non-police firearms. This is a violent country. Always has been.

A compassionate mental health care system would not dispatch police, snipers and SWAT teams on every 5150 call. It just wouldn't happen. Instead, there would be crisis teams available to perform interventions, and care facilities would be available that would provide more than a 72 hour observation window and a few prescriptions for psychotropic drugs -- which can cause more problems if not monitored carefully.

There would be mental health care facilities in the community provided as a public service like any other, staffed by professionals and available on an as-needed basis.

Care would not be restricted to certain hours or days of the week, and appointments would not be so limited that weeks or months pass before someone could check in for care and treatment.

A proper mental health care system would include homeless and addiction services, without discrimination toward patients based on the nature of their homelessness and/or addictions.

All this can be done, probably for less money than the current violent policing and imprisonment "treatments" for mental illness, homelessness and addiction cost, but money isn't the real issue. More public money is going to prison systems these days than to higher education in many jurisdictions, and there is little notice, let alone complaints about it. Mental health care spending is a relatively minor component to many public budgets, and what little is being spent is constantly on the chopping block when public budgets need tightening.

In some places like California, taxes were raised specifically to fund more adequate mental health care provisions, and the additional tax revenue was immediately -- and perhaps permanently -- diverted to fund other state budgetary needs.

We need to be clear with one another and with our elected representatives that the current system of incarceration and killing the mentally ill is not acceptable.

But that's only the first step.

Creating and sustaining an acceptable system will take a massive effort, but it can be done.

The question is, when will that first step be taken?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

In the Matter of Jamar Nicholson -- Dumb and Dumber With A Gun

This is insane, and the LAPD is defending it? This is Bratton's old stomping grounds, do not forget, and he is ever-so-proud of how the department was turned around under his watch and of how the community now loves and respects their police.

Then something like this happens. It's not the only incident of its kind, but it's one of the dumbest, and the department is determined to do what all departments reflexively do: blame the victim(s), maintain the ranks, insist that even in obvious error, they were right.

It won't be long before the smears of young Jamar begin. It's so routine, many just accept it as the way things are supposed to be.

A cop sees what he "thinks" (I use the term advisedly) is a Negro with a gun, and his automatic, "split-second decision" is to shoot. He hits a bystander -- Jamar Nicholson. Oh well, too bad so sad. Bystander is wounded, so he is handcuffed for transport to the hospital. At least he did get medical attention. As we know, so often in these cases, none is rendered until it is too late.

Nicholson remains handcuffed at the hospital until some brighter light in the LAPD recognizes that, oops, he was completely innocent of having a gun or of threatening anyone -- let alone a cop.

Oops. Oh well, all in a day's work for the Manly Men of the LAPD, right?


A "Negro with a gun," whether or not said Negro actually has a gun, whether or not said "gun" is real, is routinely a target for amped up police who see threats to be neutralized everywhere, especially among youth of color. Just the report of a "Negro with a gun" is enough to get the supposed suspect shot on sight (re: Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, etc.) 

This situation is very closely related to the behavior of troops in Iraq: the very sight of a Iraqi with a gun -- or the perception that an Iraqi had a gun, whether or not s/he had one -- was sufficient cause for immediate execution. Hundreds were killed in practically every city in Iraq on that basis. Hundreds more were killed at make-shift checkpoints for "failure to obey" orders they could not understand. Every time, or almost every time, the killings in Iraq were ruled "justified" because the brave trooper -- who was actually scared out of his wits of the local Natives -- was "following procedure" and the rules of engagement (even if he wasn't.)  This is not much different than the behavior of police departments and district attorneys in ruling (almost) every police killing "justified" because of policies and procedures, training, and unstated rules of engagement.

Clearly the unstated rules of engagement domestically are that Negroes who are perceived or reported to have weapons are to be shot on sight. They needn't be threatening anyone -- they don't even need to have a weapon. The report of a Negro with a weapon is sufficient cause for summary execution. Many police departments employ and deploy snipers to carry out executions -- just as the military does. And it does not matter whether the target has a weapon or is an actual threat. The perception is all that matters. "What was in the officer's (trooper's) mind at the time?"

In the case of Jamar Nicholson, the officer who fired claimed to have perceived a weapon in the hands of Jamar's friend with whom he was walking to school at the time. The police officer claims that he ordered the friend to drop the weapon, but the friend refused. The officer then fired, unintentionally striking and wounding Jamar -- who was unarmed and a witness not an offender.

The LAPD at its press conference regarding this officer involved shooting displayed an air-soft pistol which was claimed to be the one Jamar's friend was holding "in the shooting position" when the officer fired, striking and wounding Jamar. For his part, Jamar says he never saw his friend holding a gun that day or any other day, and that the only thing he can remember is that he asked his friend for some cologne, and his friend had sprayed some on him. Was that what the amped up officer perceived as a weapon justifying the shooting?

Where did the air-soft pistol displayed at the press conference come from, then? Speculation is that it was a "throw down," a toy weapon planted by the police. I suspect there was no "weapon" on the scene. The air-soft pistol came from the department's storage room along with all the other replica guns displayed at the press conference.

This incident was a cock-up from the get-go, but I will bet cash money that the officer has no idea he did anything wrong and basically cannot comprehend the  outrage this and so many other officer-involved shootings generate.

The department will back him up to the bitter end. More than likely, there will be no charges against him, as long as the case is made that he was "following" procedures. Jamar will probably get a financial settlement in the 6 or 7 figure range, and that will be that. Case closed.

Policies and procedures regarding shooting at suspects thought to have weapons might be slightly adjusted but not sufficiently to prevent the next shooting of an unarmed Negro who the cop perceives to have a weapon.

The makers of air-soft replicas will be blamed for these incidents, as they already have been in numerous previous cases.

But wait. Gun ownership is prevalent and legal in this country. White people with guns are considered normal and natural. The issue with air-soft and other "replica" firearms isn't that they look real, it is that Negroes sometimes have them, and thus represent an existential threat that must be neutralized.

White people with replica or real weapons are not automatically perceived by police officers as existential threats.

There's your trouble.

Another part of trouble in this case is that the young man who apparently precipitated the incident by standing in "the shooting position" and not immediately obeying the officer's commands about dropping a weapon that he may not have had in the first place, has not been produced. The LAPD asserted that he was arrested and is in custody, but their assertions in this incident have turned out to be false on more than one occasion.

The young man who was shot and was treated as a criminal after he was wounded, Jamar Nicholson, is the only one so far who has been named and presented to the public. In news reports, the other boy is described only as "the person with the gun."

The problem here is rigid and dumb police policies which enable and require shooting at Negro suspects perceived to have a weapon.

Those policies can be changed from the top. Legislation is not required.

I advocate changing those policies forthwith.

Friday, February 13, 2015

In the Matter of Sureshbhai Patel

This one's getting a bit of notice:

In response to a non-emergency call from a neighbor regarding the sighting of a "real skinny black man wearing a toboggan on his head" walking in an upscale Alabama neighborhood, two officers and then another approach a man named Sureshbhai Patel walking on the sidewalk on the street in question and attempt to engage him in conversation so as to determine his origin, purpose and intent. The 57 year old man who apparently understands very little English indicates that he is from India, and he doesn't understand much else that the police officers want from him. He is repeatedly ordered not to walk away, but he attempts to step back from the officers nevertheless.

As an officer holds the man's hands behind his back and attempts to pat him down for weapons or contraband or who knows what, the man takes a step away and the officer, named Eric Parker, throws him violently to the ground, breaking his neck. Paralyzed, Mr. Patel cannot rise or respond to officers' commands from that point onward, and yet the officers continue to badger him with questions and orders and toss his limp body around like a rag doll.

They do not offer of first aid of any kind but they do apparently handcuff his limp body "just in case" and call for emergency medical attention.

While initially defending the actions of his officers it soon enough became apparent to the police chief that this was a "misunderstanding," and Mr. Patel, grievously injured, was inappropriately controlled or neutralized. He had done nothing wrong or illegal, he was not a threat to anyone, not even himself, and the officer in question had overreacted. An apology was offered Mr. Patel's family and the officer was suspended, then fired and arrested on charges of assault.

Mr. Patel had recently arrived from India and was staying with his son and family in the neighborhood, looking after his grandson and probably helping out as needed around the house. In the mornings, he took a walk as is common among middle aged and elderly men from India  -- as I've seen myself many times in California's Central Valley. There is nothing unusual about it, certainly nothing threatening about it. Walking is good exercise and clears the mind.

While there was nothing unusual about Mr. Patel or his actions that morning, a neighbor called the police non-emergency number to report what he believed was a suspicious stranger in his neighborhood, a real skinny black man with a toboggan on his head, walking along and looking into garages and what not, and giving his wife the heebe-jeebes. He wanted the police to check out this stranger, and dispatch was made.

When the police arrived and challenged the man, the encounter seemed fairly cordial (there is a longer video at the website which documents the encounter from the beginning) but Mr. Patel clearly does not understand what the officers want from him and he is unable to comply with the officer's commands -- to produce ID, state where he lives, account for his presence in the neighborhood, etc. He establishes right away that he is from India, however. He is not a "real skinny black man with a toboggan on his head," he is  (East) Indian, probably a Hindu, out for his morning constitutional, and that's really everything the police need to know. His presence in the neighborhood should not need an explanation.

The upscale neighborhood in question is Madison, which is suburban Huntsville. Huntsville, AL is the home of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and a thriving center of advanced research and development. Mr. Patel's son works full time in the Huntsville area as an electrical engineer and was studying for his master's degree prior to the birth of his son. East Indians are hardly strangers to the area or to the space program, but at this point, given what happened to his father, Mr. Patel's son wonders if moving to Madison, where he thought his family would have a better quality of life, was a mistake. 

He's sued the Madison police department, and so far, the GoFundMe campaign on his father's behalf has raised over $88,000 to help cover medical expenses.

This incident is an example of police on a power trip using their power and authority against the most vulnerable -- because they can, and because they will almost always get away with it. In this instance, Officer Parker was training a rookie and probably wanted to show how to control a non-compliant offender. The fact that they were responding to a suspicious person call, and the man they stopped to question was non-compliant with the officer's orders (irrelevant at the time whether he understood) was sufficient for Officer Parker to make the split-second determination that Mr. Patel was an offender who had to be controlled using what the officer considered to be appropriate force -- ie: taking him down to the ground.

The move used was one you often see employed at police academies. You certainly see it in video after video of police take-downs. While it can result in injury, it usually doesn't result in severe injury. It appears that Mr. Patel sustained severe injuries to his neck and spine when his face and head hit the grass covered rise that he was thrown down on. Had the surface been flat and padded (as is the case in police academy takedowns) Mr Patel might have sustained only minor injuries.

As it was, his injuries were severe enough to induce immediate paralysis which was exacerbated by the officers' attempts to get him to stand and walk and otherwise tossing him about.

The officers made no attempt to render first aid or to lay Mr. Patel flat and stable. While every police officer in the land has been trained in first aid and many are certified EMTs, I have never seen a police officer render first aid to an individual s/he or a colleague has shot or assaulted no matter the apparent gravity of the injuries. I have seen them prevent emergency aid by others -- even fire department EMTs. This seems to be a protocol -- one that is not announced to the public. Police officers are not to render first aid to those they or their partners or colleagues have shot or assaulted, and they are to prevent others from rendering aid until and unless they declare the scene "safe and secure." By that time, of course, the victim may be dead, but oh well.

In fact, it is this typical and casual disregard for human life by police in so many circumstances that has raised the hackles of so many people. The officers are often blamed personally for this behavior, but it is obviously policy, one the public is unaware of.

Policies are not law. They can be changed by fiat by the police chief. Police disregard of human life is protected by law, but it is not required by law. Policies enable -- and sometimes require -- such callousness, however, and that is what can be and needs to be changed forthwith.

It won't be, of course, but the mounting chorus of protest has already had an effect, and as the various threads of protest and response are woven together, policies will change despite the resistance of police unions, city managers, and police captains.

The current level of police violence in this country cannot be maintained.

Here's wishing Sureshbhai Patel a full recovery and an end to police killing and violence.

The Summary Execution of A Rock-Thrower in Pasco, Washington and the Tricky Arguments Over Police Violence

A few days ago, a man was shot and killed by police in Pasco, WA in front of dozens of horrified onlookers, some of whom captured part of the incident on their camera-phones.

Those of us who have followed the issue of police violence for any length of time know that killings similar to this one -- summary executions in the streets of America, often in front of witnesses -- go on all the time, practically every day, and that for the most part they are ruled "justified" or are even regarded as "heroic" by police departments, grand juries, DAs and courts.

In other words, regardless of the facts of the matter, the only things that matter to the men and women who determine -- shall we say -- "the rules of engagement" between police and the public is that the officer(s) who kill and brutalize say the magic words, "I was afraid for my life" and that's the end of it.

There is no appeal to a higher authority.

The dead are dead and the officers who kill (almost) always go free to kill again, and even if they are not publicly hailed as heroes, internal rewards can mount up handsomely.

The police are doing the job they are assigned to do, and summary execution is part of that job.

Yesterday, James Comey, head of the FBI, offered his wisdom on the current confrontations between police and protesters over the matter of police killings of black men, often unarmed, greatly out of proportion to their alleged criminal actions.

It's really quite stunning for its apparent blindness to what is going on and why there is such an outcry against police killings and violence across this land. Mr. Comey, along with most police chiefs and their departments, appears to be living in a self-generated dreamland of perpetual threat -- everywhere -- that must be neutralized with as much force as necessary, even if the "threat" is only in the mind of the police officer who kills or brutalizes.

An ever-present threat that must always be neutralized before any other consideration is the ground state of American police forces, and it comes in part from the beliefs propagated at the FBI and the Department of Justice. What happens in the streets is a direct consequence.

What happens in the streets too often involves brutality and death by police when such action is not necessary or warranted.

Except that the rule-makers almost always say it is OK for police to brutalize and kill.

So arguing that the police are out of control is somewhat specious. They are out of control in many cases, but making that argument is practically irrelevant. The police are just "doing their jobs" according to those who make the rules. Acting like out of control, violent freaks, shooting and killing whenever they sense a threat or fear for their lives is a part of doing their jobs.  It's what they are expected to do, required to do, by their peers and supervisors, and by the power structure they are a part of.

Summary execution in the streets in front of witnesses is a part of doing their jobs, and according to leaders like (Lt Col) Dave Grossman, it is their highest achievement and a great honor for them to kill the enemy. It is fulfillment of their reason for being.

Beating to death someone like Kelly Thomas -- who was no threat at all -- is a part of doing their jobs.

This is what they have been hired and trained to do, and the violence with which they do their jobs is part of their very identity.

Arguing against police violence is arguing against the very identity of the police themselves. This identity, distinct from that of the people they ostensibly protect and serve, is a major reason why demonstrators were unable to convince police to go against their orders to suppress the Occupy demonstrations when time was, and why they will not go against orders to suppress the Black Lives Matter demonstrations these days.

The tactics of suppression may change, just as the tactics of protest and demonstration do, but the practice of violent policing and death doesn't -- not unless intense scrutiny is applied, and pressure that cannot be ignored is employed.

I've often mentioned that the practice of violent policing and death seems to have changed in Albuquerque, for example. The issue was a spate of bloody and deadly encounters between Albuquerque police and citizens that left dozens dead and injured, encounters often initiated by police and almost always escalated by them into deadly confrontations. Police were never held to account, never disciplined, never charged with crimes during this killing spree. As the dead piled up, the police department and city officials insisted that there was nothing wrong with what was going on, Albuquerque was just a super-violent place where criminals would be running wild if the police weren't on top of the matter and killing them right and left.

Except that so many of the dead weren't criminals at all or were at most low-level miscreants. Half were mentally ill. Others were drug users, alcoholics, homeless, or other marginalized residents whose encounters with the law may have been frequent but whose crimes were mostly status crimes.

Too often shots were fired by police because their target "failed to obey." That was also the case in Pasco documented at the top of this post.

Failure to obey is a capital offense.

So is "reaching" for anything near ones waistband if only to hold up ones trousers while one is running away from the threat to ones life that police have become.

Police are so convinced that everyone (within certain categories) represents an existential threat to their own lives that they feel justified shooting and killing even the most benign individuals even in the most non-threatening circumstance -- because of what they sense "might be."

They're programmed, conditioned and trained that way.

They are expected to sense and respond to "threats" -- even when there are none -- and to neutralize them with whatever force is necessary.

Defiance is a threat, disobedience is a threat, an armed Negro is an existential threat to be neutralized on sight, even if the Negro is not armed... the perception that he/she is armed is a sufficient threat for immediate neutralization with deadly force.

Mental illness is a threat, alcohol and drug intoxication is a threat, homelessness is a threat, being black or brown in America is a threat, and on and on, through the lists and categories of threats to be neutralized by the police.

The litany is long.

Arguing against the violence of police officers assigned to neutralize threats, however, is often ineffective because they are almost always protected by higher authority, even when judgements totaling millions of dollars are assessed in civil court. Almost nothing can be done against police violence in criminal courts -- at least not so far -- but civil courts often award substantial sums to survivors and victims' loved ones, or civil settlements are reached prior to trial. This may not be justice but it is a means of acknowledging that police violence isn't always appropriate. Sometimes -- perhaps rarely -- it may not be...


But overall, with few exceptions, the pattern of violence does not change.

An exception is in Albuquerque where the police department is undergoing overhaul and reform based on a consent decree reached with the Department of Justice to correct "unconstitutional policing." It has meant a spectacular decline in the rate of police killings. They haven't completely stopped, although for six months, APD refrained from killing. But the number now is nowhere near previous levels of police homicide.  It appears that the level of police violence against the public has also been significantly reduced, though it is harder to assess that number.

The resistance in Albuquerque has had a multi-pronged approach, never focusing on only one aspect of police violence to the exclusion of all others. The resistance protested every killing, even if the facts seemed to suggest it was truly justified. They fought in every venue and on the streets against police violence. They documented and detailed incidents as they occurred, and they let it be known that the killings and police violence were not tolerable prices to pay for a "civilized society."

They identified and shamed individuals within the department -- men and women who had killed or who enabled killing and violence by police -- and they were relentless in exposing the cozy relationships between police administrators, city administrators, the district attorney and the criminal courts which almost all and almost always backed the police, no matter the facts.

They shamed the media for its fawning coverage of police violence and its continual smearing of the victims of police violence.

The cumulative effect of these and other actions combined with an apparent decision by those who make the rules in Albuquerque to reduce police violence has apparently had the desired effect.

But there are thousands of police departments in the United States, and reforming them one by one is a monumental task. As we can see from the statistics maintained by Killed by Police, the three-a-day rate of police homicide across the country remains almost constant, no matter what happens in individual jurisdictions.

And as we see in the Pasco video, summary execution in front of witnesses is still a common police practice.

Change comes when there is no alternative.

For many police departments, perhaps for most, there are still plenty of alternatives to changing a culture of violence and death that's become the standard or best practice.

The argument against police violence needs to focus more on the culture of violence and death than on the individuals. Yet shaming the individuals who kill and enable killing and violent policing is necessary as well.

Still a long row to hoe.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

OT: Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread is one of those easy, good things that comes around every now and again. There are almost too many variations on the basic recipe, but here's one we use a lot. Readers may want to try it:


  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 cup wheat bran
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups buttermilk*

Preheat oven to 350°

Combine and mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Pour 1 1/2 cups buttermilk over the dry ingredients and mix with a large wooden spoon until moistened. If there are still dry sections of the dough, add a bit more buttermilk till all is moistened. The dough will be rough.

Place dough on floured board and shape into a circle about 8" in diameter, patting rather than kneading into shape. (Dough might be sticky, so flour your hands or wear disposable rubber gloves while working dough).

Make a cross-shaped incision in the top of the dough with the back of a long knife.

Bake on a parchment paper covered baking sheet for approximately 45 minutes. Bake time can vary between 40 and 50 minutes. Check doneness after 40 minutes. Bread is done when a tap on the bottom of the crust sounds hollow.

Let cool sufficiently to handle or to room temperature, slice thin or thick, slather with favorite spread and enjoy, or toast lightly in a toaster oven and enjoy plain.

*If you don't have buttermilk or would rather not use the commercial variety, clabber fresh milk by mixing in a teaspoon of white vinegar to 2 cups milk. Wait approximately fifteen minutes before using.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

For Art's Sake

Gerald Cassidy, Cui Bono? c. 1911, New Mexico Museum of Art

My hiatus has been longer than I anticipated. Part of it is due to some sort of strange reaction to Zocor, an anti-bad-cholesterol medication, and part of it is due to simple weariness at the continued relentlessness of police violence -- as well as other violence at home and around the world, with a particular emphasis on financial violence.

At any rate... had to go to Santa Fe today for R&R at the Museum of Art. Yeah, I know, how saddidy -- a word I learned from a sometimes saddidy negro if there ever was one. He was the eldest son of the prominent civil rights attorney in town (Sacramento). He wanted to be a playwright. We worked with him for a year or two, staged several of his works in progress, and then sent him off to LA to become a... well, I don't know exactly what. He's still making his living by attorney-ing as far as I know (of course the son follows the father into the practice of law, always... well, not me!), every now and then we hear tell he's scripting something. He taught me sadiddy and I will be forever grateful. Heh.

The topic at the museum was one of my favorite old-line Santa Fe artists, Gerald Cassidy, aka Ira Diamond. I didn't know that the talk would be presented by Lois Rudnik, Mabel Dodge Luhan's pre-eminent biographer. So it was a great time, and we all learned something. Oh yes. Including Lois.

The topic was this painting, Cui Bono?, supposedly the only one of Cassidy's the Museum owns.

He gave it to the Museum when it opened in 1917, and it's usually on display somewhere inside, though you may have to scout around to find it. It's quite striking, but in a magazine illustration way -- which isn't a bad thing, not in my estimation, it's just a style that many fine artists adopted to make a living. Cassidy -- real name Ira Diamond -- painted this work in 1911, before NM Statehood -- indeed, apparently even before he moved to Santa Fe and set up his easel with the Santa Fe Artists Colony. Lois said he never painted anything like it before or after. I've seen a lot of his works, and this one is actually more finished than many of his others -- which come across as well-rendered sketches. He tended to work very large scale, and his rendering was always extraordinary and very striking. This painting is almost muted by comparison, except for the face of the Indian, which is sharply rendered and intensely colored compared to the brilliant white of his shroud and the almost misty mutedness of the rest of the painting. It is a corner of Taos Pueblo as it was.

'Cui bono?' indeed. What would statehood bring to the Pueblo peoples? What does the presence of artists colonies bring to New Mexico and do to New Mexico? It's still an open question after all these years, and many Indian artists are intensely aware of the colonization that "art" per se represents in New Mexico. That  gives rise to the whole issue of "traditional" vs "contemporary" art.

And what to make of Cassidy's illustrations? Or are they Art, with a capital A?

What I find so striking about them is that Cassidy really did try to capture the spirit and the authentic look of the place and the people. Many others did as well, but Cassidy's efforts seem more spirited and thus fuller and richer.

Maybe even more authentic.

I think I mentioned in other posts that I used to do art and renderings and illustrations for my own pleasure as well as for theater projects. I have a surprisingly bulging portfolio out in the studio. I really had no idea of the bulk of it.

Last year I did a handful of sketches in pastel and charcoal, the first I've attempted in more than a decade, probably more than 20 years come to think of it. I have some more recent "artistic" photographs that I'm fairly pleased with, but no easel art or drawings until last year's rather paltry efforts. I thought I used to have a fair amount of skill if not talent, but I found out last year I no longer had skill or talent.


Cassidy died in 1934 from the consequences of inhaling toxic fumes and carbon monoxide as he worked on a mural for the Federal Building in Santa Fe.

He remains one of my favorite members of the Santa Fe Artists Colony.

Other Gerald Cassidy works:

El Palacio, November, 1917, opening of the Museum and an extensive article on Gerald Cassidy (pdf)

There's a good deal more on the Google Machine.


Despite the fact that the protests against violent policing continue -- though not on as large a scale as they once were -- nothing seems to have changed, and the killing by police continues as well. Men, women, children (well, not so much children...) shot down or run down in the streets, three a day almost like clockwork, pow-pow-pow. The dead continue piling up.

The dead tell no tales. It's been said that one of the rationales for so many of the killings is to ensure that there will be only one "side" to the tale of what happened, the police side. And of course, we hear all the time that the police are not allowed to "shoot to wound." They are trained to "shoot to stop," which means they must aim for center of mass or head, whichever seems most effective in "stopping" the culprit, and unfortunately for the culprit, that means they frequently... die. Oh well!

The fact that the police and media are eagerly complicit in smearing the dead after their demise has been noted as well. The point of the media campaign launched with nearly every police-involved shooting is to justify the killing on the basis of the deceased person's presumed "badness." It doesn't matter what happened in the incident in question, at least not usually. What matters -- really all that matters -- is the deceased's "long record," his (or sometimes her) tattoos, his/her drug use, his/her demeanor.

So every mug shot will be paraded around, his/her relatives' run ins with the law will be highlighted, the criminal statistics from his/her neighborhood will be bandied about, some traffic warrant from years ago will be cited, on and on.

What happened in the incident that got the culprit killed will not be clearly stated, even who killed the culprit will not be known for days, weeks, or months as the "investigation" goes on. The "investigation" is most often conducted by the killer's own comrades, and it can drag on indefinitely, as the killer's comrades "piece together" the events that led to the killing and the events of the killing itself. Almost always, the killing will be ruled justified and what is "pieced together" is mostly what was going on in the mind of the killer. He or she was scared. He or she was reacting to a "reaching" movement by the culprit. The culprit "lunged," therefore the officer fired in self-defense. There's a litany of approved justifications, and as long as the killer-officer invokes one or more of them, it's all good.

 Investigations tend to be lengthened when there is serious dispute over what happened and the culpability of the police is highlighted. Nevertheless, police will generally not be held liable for anything they do in the conduct of their jobs -- so long as what they do can be excused via policy, protocol and training. Thus, for example, the killing of sweet little Aiyana Stanley-Jones is ruled "just one of those things." The officer walks free. Of course.

There's a must-ness about it. There's a must-ness about three-a-day killings by police, and there's a must-ness about letting officers who kill get away with it, no matter the circumstances of the killing. They must go free (to kill again?)

I'm not the only one who's noticed the relentless pattern and commented on it, but the whys of it remain a bit murky.

*Why three-a-day almost every day?

*Why are killer-police enabled and almost always set free to kill again?

*Why are the victims almost always smeared by the police and media acting in concert?

*Why can't this pattern be broken?

Who do you protect? Who do you serve?

I continually run into claims that the People should be going to City Council meetings and getting in the face of mayors to demand an end to police violence. It's fine if they do, but I point out that doing so will rarely make much difference because the police are usually not under the authority of the Mayor and Council. The person with authority over the police is usually the City Manager or his/her equivalent. The City Manager is not elected, and s/he only listens to the voice of the People to the extent s/he must in order to pursue his/her civic agenda. In other words, the City Manager operates nearly independently of the Mayor and Council. The Mayor and Council can direct that the City Manager (or "Staff") do something, but the City Manager/Staff don't have to comply or can comply in such a way that their "compliance" is actually "defiance."

When it comes to the police, City Managers will rarely ever do what electeds and the public want unless what they want coincides with the City Manager's agenda. There is little or nothing the electeds and public can do to force a resistant City Manager to do what they want. In a pinch, they could get another City Manager, but more than likely any replacement would have the same agenda or a similar one as the Manager who has been dismissed. But even dismissing a City Manager is typically difficult, requiring a supermajority on the Council, and generally requiring a very expensive buy-out of the Manager's contract with the city.

It's much the same with school district administrators, indeed with high ranking civic officials of any kind.

City Managers rarely listen to public officials, rarely have any interaction with the public at large. Often enough, the public has no idea who they are or what their authority really is. In most municipalities, however, the City Manager or the equivalent is the one person in actual charge of every or nearly every aspect of city government. He or she is the one who runs things. Not the Council, not the Mayor, not the Chief of Police.

City Managers talk to one another, and they listen to the Powers That Be in their cities -- the men and women who have wealth, power, and influence. They typically don't listen to the Rabble at all.

The nearly universal practice of violent policing in this country comes from a consensus of City Managers directing their Chiefs to implement certain protocols and policies which are considered "best practices" in the field. They are often not the announced "best practices," they are instead a set of protocols and policies which authorize and underpin a hostile relationship between police and communities. In other words, they are "best practices" which posit the police as a "protective-occupation" force rather than a protective-service force. One of the consequences is a vast increase in the utilization of para-military SWAT teams, often for the most mundane of police activities. Police departments now routinely have and deploy snipers where none are called for. Any Negro-with-a-gun scenario and many domestic violence scenarios are treated as "active shooter" situations in which the police are expected to advance and "neutralize the threat" -- whether there is a real threat or not.

The mentally ill are often treated as if they, too, were "active shooters."

All this comes from a spate of school shootings in the 1990s and the everlasting effects of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

A so-called War on Crime that had been going on for years was transformed into a War on Threats. Anything or anyone who either posed an immediate threat or might pose one was to be "neutralized" -- often that meant killed -- forthwith. No quarter, no mercy. Potential threats were seen everywhere, in every police encounter, and in every deviation from the norm. To be black was to be an ever present danger and threat. Depending on where you were, to be Indian or Hispanic was also considered an existential danger and threat to police and everyone else.

This has been going on so long, many people just assume it's natural, but it's not.

Violent policing was not always the rule, though it was frequently the exception to the rule.

The relentlessness of violent policing comes from policy decisions made in City Managers' offices throughout the land, made in concert with the "best practices" as determined by consensus of the Managers themselves. Violent policing is the rule because City Managers have determined and declared it to be the rule. They don't want another Columbine. They don't want another 9/11. Not on their watches. So, if a few darkies or other members of the Rabble get a bullet in the head to prevent something much worse from happening, so what? "Protect and Serve," get it?

But who tells the City Managers to implement such policies?

Where do they come from?

They come from people like Bill Bratton and Dave Grossman who have studied the matter closely. Bratton, of course, is NYPD commissioner now, as he was in the past, and he's apparently decided to go full Bull Connor against the uppity Rabble-Terrorists. No more Mister Nice-Guy, beat the crap out of them and kill them he will. Or at least hold the perpetual threat over their heads.

Grossman is in the shadows, whereas Bratton is right out front. Grossman psychs the cops up to kill and kill some more, relentlessly and without remorse. That's his function. Bratton soothes the Rabble with talk of "community and peace." Grossman celebrates and energizes a cult of punishment and death among the police. That is their calling, that is their job, to rain punishment and death on the populace.

The policies of violent policing also come from the Department of Justice in Washington, and from numerous court rulings which say in essence that when push comes to shove, police are above the law and absolved from wrong-doing.

We note that the relentless killing spree and practice of violent policing has not abated -- except for anomalies here and there such as the apparent stand-down of the Albuquerque police and the temporary slow-down of NYPD actions during supposed disputes with the Mayor.

In St. Louis, there are suggestions of reform -- or maybe not. In Seattle, the police continue their resistance to change and acting out violently at the least provocation or none at all.

Chicago, on the other hand, celebrates their reform of the police -- while actually changing very little if at all.

The problem of violent policing is nationwide, almost universal. City-by-city "reform" is not really addressing the problem adequately. How many thousands more must die before "reform" is implemented nationwide?

The way to stop the killing, from a policy perspective, is to put "preservation of life" policies in primary place and remove or reduce policies which posit "neutralizing the threat" as the most important objective of policing.

It's actually not that hard.